The ability of influenza virus to evade immune surveillance by neutralizing antibodies (Abs) directed against its variable surface antigens provides a challenge to the development of effective vaccines. CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) restricted by class I major histocompatibility complex molecules are important in establishing immunity to influenza virus because they recognize internal viral proteins which are conserved between multiple viral strains. In contrast, protective Abs are strain-specific. However, the precise role of effector CD8+ CTLs in protection from influenza virus infection, critical for understanding disease pathogenesis, has not been well defined. In transgenic mice with a very high frequency of antiinfluenza CTL precursors, but without protective Abs, CD8+ CTLs conferred protection against low dose viral challenge, but exacerbated viral pathology and caused mortality at high viral dose. The data suggest a dual role for CD8+ CTLs against influenza, which may present a challenge to the development of effective CTL vaccines. Effector mechanisms used by CD8+ CTLs in orchestrating clearance of virus and recovery from experimental influenza infection, or potentiation of lethal pathology, are discussed.